Cash flowed even as grain firm failed

By John Braese and Les Zaitz

The Enterprise

NYSSA – Galen Jantz earlier this year needed time to save Farmers Grain.

By June, the Vale business leader and farmer was under relentless pressure.

The Nyssa grain brokerage he founded and operated was bankrupt, hoping to reorganize to settle millions in debt. Farmers were demanding their money. Partners wondered what had happened.

The brokerage’s main lender was foreclosing to get its money back from the failing business.

And now, that lender, Rabo AgriFinance, was going after Jantz personally, seeking what it said in court filings was $4.5 million he owed from his own farming operations.

Attorneys for Farmers Grain stepped in to run interference for Jantz, hoping to buy him breathing room to untangle the mess. In federal court filings, the company said Jantz had to be spared the personal financial pressures so he could focus on rescuing Farmers Grain. Jantz’ attention was crucial to restoring Farmers Grain to profitability and paying off its debts.

“His roles cannot be duplicated by anyone else,” the company said. It wanted a federal judge to tell the lender, Rabo AgriFinance, to essentially leave Jantz alone.

The judge didn’t get a chance to consider that plea because a month after it was filed, Jantz was gone.

He “had suffered a mental breakdown, had left his family, and had abandoned both his personal farming operations and Farmers Grain because of his poor mental health,” Rabo AgriFinance said in a court filing.

Steve Neighbors, a conservator hired to manage Jantz’s affairs, recently confirmed the report.

“Galen needed some distance to get centered again and left for a while,” said Neighbors. “This whole thing has impacted Galen personally. He put everything he had into Farmers Grain.”

He said Jantz later returned to Vale, took his family and has gone to an undisclosed location, reported to be in the Midwest. Telephone numbers listed for Jantz were all disconnected and he didn’t respond to written questions submitted through Neighbors.

Neighbors said in an email that Jantz still was “struggling with severe depression and feeling let down by God.”

Jantz’ partners in the grain brokerage declined to talk or didn’t return messages. Jantz owned 40 percent of the company, according to court records, and another 25 percent was held by Chris Unruh, a corn farmer from Idaho.

Unruh initially did discuss the business failure, but then asked for time to prepare a public statement that he said could include an apology. He hasn’t provided the statement or returned subsequent messages.

And recently there were no signs of life at the home Jantz built for his family in 2016 on Vale View Road.

The property features an above ground swimming pool and a shop approximately the size of a city block. A newer Dodge pickup sat in the driveway along with three all-terrain vehicles.

Children’s toys lie along the stone entryway.

Elsewhere on the property are newer grain storage units, John Deere tractors and a truck scale. In an adjoining field, corn is reaching the six feet high behind new fencing and new gates.

Acquaintances said Jantz came to the Vale area about 10 years ago after farming in Buhl, Idaho. Idaho corporation records also show he owned a local a greenhouse there that is now in new ownership. And Oregon corporation records show he also was the registered agent for Crane Creek Ranch LLC, a California company with holdings in Oregon. Company officials, including manager Greg Amaral, didn’t return messages seeking comment. Amaral also is listed as a manager of yet another Oregon corporation for which Jantz served as registered agent, a share cropping company called Vale Ranches LLC.

Besides leading Farmers Grain, Jantz built up trucking and custom haying businesses. He farmed his own ground east of Vale and leased other property. The twin silos on his ground along U.S. Highway 20 were a Malheur County icon, with a covered wagon design and a sign of promise: “Vale or Bust.”

But it was in the brokerage business he made his local mark. He created Farmers Grain in 2013, taking over a small Nyssa plant and, with partners, built it into a $30-million-a-year business.

According to court filings, Jantz spent most of his time running Farmers Grain. In the two years ending last April, he took wages of $220,000. After the company went bankrupt, records filed in federal court showed he owed the company $183,000.

While farmers and others went unpaid earlier this year, Farmers Grain kept cash flowing to Jantz. In February, Farmers Grain issued a $750,000 check to Jantz Family Farms, listed as for “corn.” Who authorized the payment or why it was made couldn’t be immediately determined.

Just two months earlier, one of Jantz’s key partners, Chris Unruh, advanced the company $4.2 million to keep it afloat.

Neighbors said Jantz is determined that his own assets be used to be sure area farmers aren’t financially harmed.

“He has been clear that he wants nothing but wants everything he has personally to be used to pay his creditors,” Neighbors wrote. “He has asked that we help any farmers that got hurt first and foremost.”

Neighbors said the operating idea behind Farmers Grain would likely survive.

“There will be a life after Farmers Grain for the property, owned by others and set up with better checks and balances,” Neighbors said.